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Lawn Tennis: WIZARD OF OZ; AUSTRALIAN OPEN FINAL Nadal's joy after his first triumph on hard courts.

Byline: BY TED TRACEY

RAFAEL NADAL last night admitted it was a "dream" to claim his first hard-court grand slam title.

Nadal needed four hours and 23 minutes to get the better of three time champion Roger Federer 7-5 3-6 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-2 in the Australian Open Final.

And it was Nadal's fifth victory against his Swiss rival in seven grand slam finals. It also denied Federer the chance to equal Pete Sampras' record of 14 grand slams.

The 22-year-old said: "It is very special for me. It's a dream win, it's my first grand slam on a hard court.

"I've worked very hard all my life to improve my tennis outside of clay. I'm so happy I've won."

After coming through a thrilling five-set match against Fernando Verdasco in the semi-finals, Nadal became the first man since Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001 to win a grand slam title with five-set victories in his semi and final.

He needed two separate spells of massage to his right thigh during the third set and admitted he came into the final with a hamstring injury after his record-breaking five hours, 14 minutes against Verdasco. Nadal, who becomes the first man to have won slams on all three surfaces since Andre Agassi, said: "In the third set my hamstring started to pull. There was no cramping but it was scary."

Federer hit too many unforced errors, 29 of his 64 coming off his backhand and he also had an off day with his serve, hitting six double-faults, including one that gave Nadal his second championship point. The former No.1 could only convert six of his 19 break points as well.

Nadal took the first set 7-5 but when Federer broke twice to take the next 6-3, the crowd settled in for the long haul.

The third set went to a tie-break where a Federer double-fault gave Nadal the upper hand.

But Federer came back in style in the fourth to break Nadal twice and force it into a deciding fifth set.

However, Federer's backhand errors continued to haunt him and when he trailed 5-2 all hope was gone. Federer's emotions got the better of him at the end, although he said that was more to do with the impact of losing rather than the fact he had missed out on a chance to equal Sampras' record.

He said: "In the first moment you're disappointed, you're shocked, you're sad, then all of a sudden it overwhelms you.

"The problem is you can't go in the locker room and take a cold shower.

"You're stuck out there. It's the worst feeling."

CAPTION(S):

PRIZE GUYS: Federer and Nadal and the Spaniard flat out, below, after his efforts
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 2, 2009
Words:455
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